She’s one of the great musical roles, but Marian in The Music Man wasn’t even on Sutton Foster’s wish list.
“When they first approached me about three years ago to play her, my first response was ‘What? Why?’ I didn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense to me,” the actress admits in the latest episode of EW’s The Awardist podcast. “I could probably cast 20 other people before I would get to me — but I think that was also why she was intriguing, was that she was not in my wheelhouse.”
She adds, “I was pretty confident I would be fired. I just really didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”
It turned out pretty well, actually. Foster, who already has two Tony Awards to her name, earned her seventh career nomination for her work in the production. She’s not the only one on The Awardist podcast: Joining her are fellow nominees Jesse Williams (actor in a featured role, take me out), Tracy Letts (best play, The Minutes), Camille A. Brown (director of a play and choreography, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf), and Michael R. Jackson (book of a musical and original score, A Strange Loop).
While Jackson’s show — which has existed in different iterations and was in development for some 16 years — earned the most nominations this year, with 11, that doesn’t mean all the reactions have been positive. And he admits to having “some masochistic tendencies where I read all the comments,” many from theatergoers who just have nothing nice to say.
“I’m obsessed with understanding how people think about things. I do not care what they think, but how,” Jackson explains. “But the thing that I learned, the longer I spent on all that chat, was that it was just sucking. I’m a bottom feeder for the worst kind of commentary, but the longer I spent on there with people talking s— about me, the longer… even the how of what their thoughts were was not intellectually interesting to me.”
Williams’ turn in take me out marks not only his Broadway debut but his stage debut, work that he says he’s found to be more liberating than TV and film, “where you’re going to say [the lines] one day and you’ll never say [them] ever again in your life,” he says. “I just started to view it as a real opportunity to dig and build and play… It continues to be, every night, frankly, a life lesson on letting go. Maybe that scene felt funky. Maybe I felt like I dropped out there for a moment. I don’t beat myself up and let it domino into the next five scenes. I’m the rookie here. So this is those rookie mistakes, I would imagine, but I love being a student and I love learning actively. I love feeling alive and processing new information and asking questions. So this is a dream.”
Joan Marcus Jesse Williams in ‘Take Me Out’
let’s play The Minutes was one of those put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but before productions everywhere shuttered, his show had previews in Chicago and won a Pulitzer Prize (his third to date). But it’s the first he’s written in which he also acts. “There’s a weird bifurcated brain thing that’s taking place where I’m in the show, I’m playing the show, but I’m also very aware of the show as the writer of the show, a player/manager or something,” the stage and screen veteran says. “It’s a very odd position to be in. I’ve never been in it before. So it feels very new to me.”
Brown says the challenge with her staging her revival, the first both directed and choreographed by a Black woman in 67 years (Katherine Dunham was the last), was how beloved Ntozake Shange’s original story is. “Even though it’s been 40 years since it’s been on Broadway, it’s been a movie, it’s been countless iterations of it,” Brown says. “So I first had to get out of my own way because there was a fear of, ‘Well, what am I going to contribute to it? There have been so many people that have done this before me, what am I going to say ?’ And I just had to remove that and go, ‘Camille, just enter it the way that you see the poems and just dive into it and speak your truth in it.’ So the challenge was getting out of my own way and the pressure of trying to do something that is as pivotal as For Colored Girls.”
You can listen to the full episode of The Awardist below. EW senior writer Maureen Lee Lenker joins host Gerrad Hall with her predictions in a handful of categories for the Tony Awards (which will take place June 12), and which snubs from this year still hurt.
Check out more from EW’s The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year’s best in TV.